Parliament Committee of Privileges should haul up the ACA Investigations Director Nordin Ismail to ask him to show cause why he should not be punished for breach of parliamentary privileges unless he could produce prima facie evidence to justify investigation into “14 MPs” for submitting parliamentary claims exceeding RM10,000 a month
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Wednesday): On Monday, I said Parliament had become a laughing-stock in the country as a result of the reckless allegation of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Noh Omar last Wednesday of excessive parliamentary claims by Members of Parliament, and his utter irresponsibility in failing to distinguish between “meeting claims” with “non-meeting claims”, thus subjecting all Members of Parliament, whether government or opposition, to public suspicion and ridicule for being far from honest and scrupulous in their claims in the highest political and legislative chamber in the land.
Today, such public suspicion and ridicule would have turned to distrust and contempt when Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian front-paged screaming headlines and reports of the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) going to interrogate 14 Members of Parliament whose parliamentary claims exceeded RM10,000 a month, plunging the dignity and public esteem for the institution of Parliament to an all-time low in the 46-year history of the nation!
Utusan Malaysia front-page headline “BPR siasat 14 ahli Parlimen – Ekoran tuntuan perjalanan mereka didakwa mencurigakan” and Berita Harian’s “Tuntutan: BPR mahu soal 14 Ahli Parlimen” quoted the ACA Director of Investigations, Datuk Nordin Ismail, as saying that the ACA will interview 14 MPs whose “mileage claims” exceeded RM10,000 a month.
Nordin said the ACA had obtained documents from Parliament’s finance division as well as the Hansard of Parliament’s proceedings and will compare the claims with a circular on the claim rate fixed for MPs.
He said the case is being investigated under Section 11c of the Corruption of Prevention Act 1997 and that the ACA would use its expertise in forensic accounting to investigate the matter.
Four thoughts immediately came to my mind when I read these screaming headlines about ACA investigations into 14 MPs for false and excessive parliamentary claims:
A simple check without requiring any “forensic accounting” would have told the ACA that based on regulations on parliamentary claims, it would be commonplace for MPs who record full attendance for long parliamentary meetings, like the 19-day parliamentary budget meeting last October, to claim over RM10,000 – and that those whose claims are below RM10,000 had either under-claimed or under-attended. If the intention is to discourage parliamentary meeting claims exceeding RM10,000 a month, then the regulations on parliamentary claims would have to be amended to provide for lower claim rates.
What is shocking, and even news to me although I had been MP for 30 years from 1969 to 1999, is that “non-meeting” claims by MPs could exceed RM10,000 a month, when they receive invitations to Federal, State and government agency functions – which is clearly indefensible and waste of public funds.
This is why all the 16 MPs from both sides of the House named by Noh should publicly clarify whether their parliamentary claims exceeding RM10,000 a month were “meeting claims” or “non-meeting” claims.
Furthermore, if it is wrong for an MP to have monthly “non-meeting” claims exceeding RM10,000, it cannot be right when they are below RM10,000 a month.
Can Nordin explain what is the basis for the ACA to initiate investigations into the 16 MPs on the basis that their parliamentary claims exceeded RM10,000 a month?
What about MPs whose claims were just below RM10,000, say between RM9,000 to RM9,999? Is it right and permissible for MPs to make false and excessive claims below RM10,000 a month but not above? Why has the ACA landed itself with such an arbitrary position, which is not calculated to enhance public confidence in its professionalism and integrity?
This is why I had called for all parliamentary claims by MPs, whether “meeting” or “non-meeting”, after the 1999 general election to be made public – and the person to do so is the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by way of a Ministerial statement in Parliament to restore public confidence in the integrity of the institution of Parliament.
The ACA is duty-bound to explain whether it is really committed to fight graft and abuses of power, and not just playing along with the “political football” game started by Noh to attack the Opposition in reckless disregard of the damage to the institution of Parliament.
If the ACA is genuinely committed against graft and corruption, it should also conduct full investigations into the claims by all elected representatives, whether Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries at the national level or Chief Ministers, Mentris Besar, State Exco Members and State Assembly members at the state level? It should also conduct a full-scale investigation into the abuses and corrupt practices in the allocation of minor development funds for Barisan Nasional parliamentary constituencies, which have been increased to RM1 million a year!
The 16 MPs, 8 from the Barisan Nasional, 5 from PAS, 2 Keadilan and 1 DAP, named by Noh for having made claims exceeding RM10,000 a month in the 18 months from January 2002 to June 2003 are:
If there is a prima facie case that the 16 MPs had been guilty of submitting false and corrupt claims, then they should be suspended as MPs until completion of investigations.
I believe however that apart from the PAS MP for Jeli, Mohd Apandi Mohamad - who according to Noh claimed RM132,000 last year and RM78,356.96 for the first six months of this year - all the other 15 MPs named by Noh for having submitted parliamentary claims exceeding RM10,000 a month, had done so in connection with “meeting claims”.
While there is nothing to prevent the ACA from conducting investigations on MPs if it has good reason to believe that the crime of corruption had been committed in connection with false and excessive claims (which cannot be based on a reckless and irresponsible statement by a Parliamentary Secretary in Parliament), the most proper body to conduct full investigations affecting MPs is the Committee of Privileges or a special committee set up by Parliament – or it would be another scandal where the Malaysian Parliament, unlike other Commonwealth Parliaments, is incapable of regulating its own affairs, including investigation and punishing MPs for breaches of privileges as submitting false and excessive claims.
Furthermore, the ACA should be mindful of not violating the privileges of MPs, which Nordin had clearly done in his announcement yesterday that the ACA will investigate “14 MPs” – and for this, the Committee of Privileges should come out of its hibernation to do its duty.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman